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Silver Hallmarks Guide

  

The English silver hallmark system is the world's oldest quality control standard for silver articles and gold, and has been in use since the 12th century. It began at the Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office in London 700 years ago.  Every piece of English silver bears a set of marks that declares the article has been independently tested and passed by an Assay Office, thus guaranteeing that its purity conforms to legal standards. In the past, any piece not passing the test was either destroyed or marked as “800”, a lower European standard. British silver hallmarks state the standard of fineness as well as where, when and by whom the piece was made.

 

  
  

 

THE BRITISH SILVER HALLMARK  

Four obligatory marks form the basis upon which assaying silver has developed in the UK. Since 1998 the date letter has become optional and the other three symbols remain compulsory.

  

 

Maker’s Mark  

Throughout history registered silversmiths left their individual marks on the silver pieces they made. Certain makers are very sought after and command very high prices, such as Paul Storr, Hester Bateman, Christopher Dresser, Paul de Lamerie and Omar Ramsden.

  

 

Sterling Silver Quality  

In its pure state silver is a too soft to be practical for either coinage or domestic use. During the Saxon period in England the percentage of silver in coinage was fixed at 92.5%, the other 7.5% being copper. This alloy provided good strength and colour while retaining a high intrinsic value and remains the composition of sterling silver today. Today sterling silver bears the 925 millesimal fineness mark. Antique silver markings show the ‘lion passant’ – the traditional fineness element of the hallmark.

  

 

City of Assay  

Provincial marking was also commonplace in the UK from the 16th century and enabled silversmiths to avoid making the long and often hazardous journey to a main assay centre. You may therefore come across pieces with, for instance, a hallmark from Exeter, Chester, York, Glasgow or Guernsey. Today, however, the assay offices open for silver hallmarking are London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Edinburgh, and Dublin and their respective marks can be seen here.

  

 

Date Letter  

An alphabet cycle was implemented into the antique silver hallmarking system in 1478 with each cycle differentiated by changing font styles and shield shapes. This system continued without a break until 1697 when a new cycle was started called the Britannia Standard (.958). In 1975, a new hallmarking act was passed leading to a much more simplified system starting January 1st each year and when all the date letters in each assay office change.

  

 

The Langfords Silver Hallmark  

  
   Langfords Hallmarks    ccccc 

Initials = maker or sponsor
Lion passant = .925 sterling silver
Leopard's head = London Assay Office
Millennium mark = date mark = 2000

  
  

 

DUTY MARK

You may come across another mark on your silver article.  The duty mark of the sovereign’s head does not appear in all hallmarks, but if it does, it will tell you that the item was marked during years when The Crown levied duty on gold and silver. Duty hallmarks will therefore appear on antique silver pieces assayed between 2 December 1784 and 30 April 1890. The outlines of these marks may vary, and often the old punches were used for some time after each sovereign’s death.  Dublin did not introduce the silver hallmark until 1807 and Glasgow in 1819. Both cities continued with the duty stamp until 1890, as in England.

 

COMMEMORATIVE MARKS

Special marks to commemorate significant national events may also be added to a piece of silver if a sponsor chooses.  The Millennium Mark to celebrate the year 2000 was very popular and was applied to more than five million pieces of jewellery and silverware.  For 2012 a special commemorative hallmark was approved to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, only the second British monarch to reign for 60 years.  This optional British hallmark depicts a young Queen Elizabeth wearing an oversized crown in a diamond shaped surround.